I know, I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, and you’re all breathlessly awaiting updates on my ridiculous adventures. WELL WAIT NO MORE. I have been actively journaling over here, I just haven’t had any time to type them up to show you guys. Things got really busy, you know? But I’m all set to type it all up for you, so grab yourself a cup of coffee (or tea, or Guinness, whatever floats your goat), and get ready to hear about Dublin.
What a day. I’m in Ireland finally! How neat is that? It’s definitely been a hard-won battle. First, my flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte was delayed a bit, but ad I had a planned three-hour layover in Charlotte I wasn’t too fussed. What I was concerned about was my carry-on bag getting checked unexpectedly because the luggage racks were full, and that bag had my laptop and (more importantly) my blanket in it. But I didn’t really have a choice, so off the bag went. The delay that irritated me most was the three-hour delay in the Charlotte airport. Now, I had been expecting a three-hour layover, but since my plane got to the airport late the layover itself got cut to about an hour. However, our plane out of Charlotte was broken, so after about an hour of attempting to fix it they got us a new plane, but then that plane had to be checked over….it was a cluster. Finally we got to the hotel and were told that we would have to wait to get our rooms because the previous residents hadn’t checked out yet. We ended up having to wait for about three hours to get my room, but the girls who got there earlier (on time) had to wait even longer than I did. Gross.
But I only tell you that to get it out of the way. You know what’s more important? I flew in an airplane! We went through clouds! Stacks on stacks on mountains on valleys of clouds! In several spots on the way to Dublin I way these vast sheets of thick cloud cover break over, like a little hole in the middle, and there was another layer of clouds miles below the first! And the sunrise over the ocean was absolutely amazing. Some of the clouds in the cloud layer looked like they had lava flowing under them because of the way the sunrise hit them. I had planned to watch a couple movies on the 7-hour plane ride, but I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the window of the plane (luckily I had a window seat). Then again, I can watch movies any old time, but that plane ride was once in a lifetime.
In addition to the stress of getting to my hotel and getting into my room, I was also planning on meeting Claire Hennessy, an editor from Penguin Books Ireland. Because of all the hotel delays and getting very seriously lost on the way to the restaurant I ended up getting there about twenty minutes late, which was incredibly embarrassing. Claire, however, was incredibly gracious, and we chatted for quite some time about what it takes to be in the publishing business. Claire was really neat herself; very funny and she let me ask her questions when she was trying to eat her burger. In my books, that makes you a pretty great person. Burgers are pretty serious things to put down, you know? I’m very grateful to her for being so darn lovely 🙂
Unfortunately, I lost track of where the group was while I was having lunch so I missed the Book of Kells and Trinity College, but from what the other girls (even the English majors) said, it wasn’t much to see. Sort of like looking at the Mona Lisa: after all the build up and travel, it wasn’t all that astounding, so I’m not too fussed that I missed it.
Now that we’ve eaten dinner (salmon with chocolate lava cake for dessert– yum!) I’m realizing I’ve not slept properly for about 36 hours (I was actually falling asleep on a curb waiting for my group today, haha). Until tomorrow!
Today started with us wandering around Christchurch Cathedral for a bit. The church itself was very richly decorated, complete with carved wood, icons, and stained glass that puts St. Boniface’s to shame. I took some pictures, but they don’t do it justice. I also took a few pictures of Mary’s icons, just for Molly. We checked out the catacombs and they were…catacomby. I mean what is there to say about catacombs, really? Oh, except that they had the bodies of a cat and rat that got mummified in one of the organ’s pipes, so that was sort of funny to see (the tag said that the animals were actually the catacombs’ most famous residents). Oh, and the gift shop was located in the catacombs; can you imagine working down there all day? Yikes!
After Christchurch we hopped on a train to the coastal town of Howth, which was about a 45 minute train ride away from Dublin (technically the trip was optional, but I’m pretty sure nearly all of us went). Laney, Hannah, Drew and I stuck together, hanging out on the big stone dock wall admiring the view of Ireland’s Eye island (which Hannah informed us is a bird sanctuary) before walking into the town center. We only had enough time to browse the tiny shops and get gelato before meeting to hop on the train back to town.
For dinner a big group of us went to this neato split-level bar which was called O’Brian’s Ferryman. I had my first pint of Guinness there, and I really liked it! Aruna and I took our glasses from there because we’re little thieves, so now I have a neato Guinness glass from a real Irish pub. After we left that place it was pretty late and we were quite tired, so we headed back to the hotel to sleep.
Today was, I think, the best day of the tour so far. As soon as breakfast was over (around 9:30) we took off in a bus. We drove for about an hour and a half to the Hill of Tara, where we saw the Stone of Destiny. Supposedly if you touch the stone and it cries out your name, you’re the next reigning king of Ireland. I don’t think anyone in our group was crowned– though come to think of it, I don’t know if I actually touched the stone or not…Tara is essentially a raised hill in the middle of a field in terms of landscape, but the hill was surrounded be several ditches ringing the hill itself. Nearby there is a small burial mound known as the Mound of Hostages, which housed the remains of over 200 humans (the name has to do with a prisoner exchange that happened there, not the people buried there). We couldn’t go inside but we could peer into the opening and see the stones decorated with spirals, and that sure was nifty.
The burial mound that we were allowed inside was Newgrange, (subject of the Celtic Woman song of the same name). This burial mound is the biggest in a trio of nearby mounds, although there are over 300 scattered across the country. The mound is known as a passage tomb for the tunnel inside the mound.
It was absolutely breathtaking. Here’s the lowdown: the ancient Druids were very into the solar patterns, so when they made Newgrange they aligned the openings to the winter solstice. At Newgrange during the winter solstice (December 21st, I think), the sunlight goes perfectly into the mound for roughly 17 minutes, when it rises and illuminated the “burial” portion of the chamber (If you imagine a cross, the top section of the cross is known as the burial portion, the right side as the bathing or purification portion and the left hand side is sort of just a decoration).
Here’s the thing: Not many remains were found at Newgrange. I mean this this is huge, it could have had thousands of remains in it, but it only had a few. So why so little? Some people think that this passage tomb was actually a place of worship. The right-hand bit of the “cross” has a basin in it, presumably for cleansing before handling the dead at the top part of the cross, the place touched by the ray of light during the solstice. No one really knows though– the chamber is barely big enough to fit twenty people in (we had to split our tour group up for it), so it wouldn’t really be suitable for everyone to worship in, though the high priests could certainly have fit. No one knows about the spirals carved into the stones in the passage and all over the entrance stone outside either; they could have just been decorations, or they could have been a language long-ago forgotten.
Either way, the stones were gorgeous, and the experience itself was very spiritual. The tour re-enacts the winter solstice with electric lights, so we gt to see what it would look like. My iPod decided to die weirdly early, so I took it as a sign from the powers that be that I needed to pay more attention to what I was seeing and less to what pictures I could take. It was a good thing too; I think that it’s really easy to get caught up in the tourism aspect and forget that, for whatever reason, the things we’re looking at were really important spiritually for people living there thousands of years ago, and that whatever they did they must have done right, because the structures and languages are still with us today. We didn’t have much extra time at Newgrange, but I definitely felt something–maybe whatever force that’s been pulling me to Ireland for so long– when I looked across those vistas and saw that shaft of light creeping along the floor of that ancient tomb.
(Sidenote: When I was washing up in the restroom before leaving, another tourist asked me if I had been to Newgrange. She only had time for either Newgrange or Knowth (the other mound) and she wanted to know what I thought. I told her that I thought the reenactment at Newgrange was excellent and that it was a very spiritual experience for me, and it turns out that she teaches religion and spirituality at university level! Go figure!)
For our last night in Dublin a giant group of us went out to dinner at a pub in Temple bar called…something. I’ll have to ask Erica. It was on three levels, but the top part not only had this big banquet table for all of us to sit at, but also a sound system for us to listen to the live music being played downstairs and a screen for us to watch the musicians playing! Shortly after we ordered (fish and chips for me) the musicians came upstairs to play for us! It was great!
After that we split into groups; some of us went to the hotel, some to a specific bar somewhere, Drew, Laney, Erica and I decided to walk around the Temple Bar area to find some place with live music and to have a few drinks. We went to a few places but they all said we had to be 21 to go in, which is exceptionally silly because the drinking age in Ireland is 18. We finally went to into Temple Bar itself, which I was particularly excited about because I hadn’t been in there yet; I mean you can’t leave Dublin without going into their most famous bar! It was packed just enough to be fun, and the music was great. We met a girl named Brittany from Canada, attending school in London, traveling ALONE through Ireland. Can you imagine? All by her lonesome! I give her mad props. While in Temple Bar we were hit on by two rather attractive (if a bit older) Irish gentlemen. Fancy that.
Because Brittany was such a lovely person, we became such good friends that she came with us when we went to the next bar, Lanigan’s. This one I had been in before, and both nights it was jam packed. I’m talking hand-holding-so-we-don’t-get-lost-in-the-press crowded. We found a wee corner and had a few drinks with a couple of…interesting Irish men in their forties (Two of them said I had beautiful eyes–take that, Hope!) They were harmless…mostly. Around 11 we took off, said goodbye to Brittany at her hostel, and headed back to our hotel.
Today, June 28th, we bid adieu to the fair city of Dublin, bound for Galway. The trip, which normally is about two hours or so, took us longer because of our planned detours. First we went to Bunratty Castle in County Clare. Aside from being a gorgeous castle (super fun for exploring) the castle had it’s own reenactment town, with real blacksmiths and cobblers and such. We only had a little bit of time there, but we got to explore the castle (and get some excellent photos from the top, I might add) before hopping back on the bus. This time we were bound for the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, in the Burren region of County Clare.
Whatever I say about the Cliffs will fall short, so suffice it to say that the hour we spent there was not nearly enough. Rarely have I been so in awe of nature and all of her beauty as I was looking at the waves crashing on those giant rock faces. I guess you’ll just have to go and see them for yourself 🙂
After the Cliffs we wove through the roads of the Burren (mad props to our fearless tour bus driver) on our way to Galway. We arrived around 6 p.m. and were assigned apartments (I’m rooming with Drew, how lucky is that!?) before being sent off to do our own things. We got moved in and all went out to dinner (hopefully our last for a while; now that we all have full kitchens we’re loath to spend money going out to dinner, haha) and got to know a few of the students that didn’t go on the Dublin trip (they were already moved into Corrib Village, our little apartment village). A few students went out for drinks, but most of us were exhausted and ready to sleep. Most of us just found out where everyone was living (most of us are in the same three buildings, so that’s really great!) and then headed off to bed. So ended our week in Dublin.
One of the things I’m most grateful about this Dublin trip was that it forced us to become close to each other, because we all were going through a lot of similar things. And really, everyone on this trip has been great to be with. It’s kind of blowing my mind how close we’ve become over the last four days. I’m sure everyone who has met us in Galway will fit right in, but the Dublin tour was definitely the best way to start off our month in Ireland, I think. If you were in Dublin with me, thanks for making things fun, and for making Dublin easy to acclimate to. Particular thanks to Laney (my hotel roommate who’s name I couldn’t remember for the first two days..whoops), Drew, Erica, Hannah, and everyone else who made Dublin infinitely less scary, and mostly for making me laugh as hard as I did. I think all new things are better to figure out if you have someone else to figure them out with. Getting lost somewhere foreign isn’t half so bad if you have someone else lost with you.
On that uncharacteristically sentimental note, I’ll sign off for now. Stay tuned for an update from Galway!